On Sunday, October 2, 2016; the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) enacted a major revamp of key bus routes with the goal of streamlining service and improving efficiency and reliability throughout the system. These changes include the introduction of four new bus routes and substantial changes to 12 others – including the Jolley Trolley. In this post; I will go into detail regarding each of the changes for southern and a portion of central Pinellas, as well as share some images of the new services that PSTA now operates.
Streamlining South & Central County Service
PSTA has long been known for operating notoriously long bus routes by which it can take as much as two to three hours to traverse Pinellas County. While longer routes tend to provide a convenient, one-seat option for some; the lengthier the bus route, the more chances that reliability issues will arise. In the case of many central Pinellas routes; buses were running well behind schedule due to traffic conditions and/or construction on key corridors – like Ulmerton Rd. When buses fall behind on one segment of the route, the entire route becomes bogged down in delays, and that in-turn inconveniences the customer.
To help remedy this problem, PSTA decided to modify routes so that they can operate more smoothly. These measures included splitting some routes into two or three segments so that better service can be provided and maintained on the busiest portions while maintaining basic (hourly or less frequent) service in areas that don’t see high ridership demand. Other changes included combining segments of two routes that would otherwise be too short to operate on their own (while not being notoriously long either), and moving/eliminating a portion of an existing route and allow another route or service to easily compensate for any service lost.
Route 4 maintains its frequent 15-minute weekday service during the day – with 30-minute frequency after 6:30pm and all day on Saturdays. Hourly service is maintained on Sundays and Holidays. However, the segment north of Gateway Mall now travels up MLK St N to Roosevelt Blvd, 28th St N, 118th Ave N, and 34th St N – taking over the path of Route 59 to the 34th St Transfer Center (PSTA Facility). The northern (116th Ave N/Goodwill Industries) loops previously served by Route 4, have been shifted over to a new Route 9, which I will describe in a few moments. In addition to the above; the Coquina Key Loop is now a timepoint. This means that buses serving the loop will display “via Coquina” on the head signs.
While I was very concerned about the routing that Route 4 would ultimately take, I have to say that I am very satisfied with how the final routing turned out. Not only will I be able to use the same bus stops that I’ve been using previously to board and de-board Route 59, but I will also enjoy a one-seat ride into the heart of Downtown St. Petersburg via 4th St N. The frequency of the 4 during the weekdays and on Saturdays will also allow me to be more flexible with my work commute schedule, and also make quick runs to the store – particularly Trader Joe’s on 4th St N – without having to drive or wait up to an hour for a connecting bus.
As I mentioned earlier, the 116th Ave N/Goodwill Industries loops that were previously served by Route 4 are now served by the new Route 9. The 9 operates every 30 minutes on weekdays with hourly service on the weekends (though for some reason, the buses do run a bit more oddly on Sundays). Buses serving the loops will do so in the same clockwise fashion that Route 4 previously did on Sundays and Holidays – departing Gateway Mall and serving 116th Ave N first, then the Goodwill Industries facility on Gandy Blvd, before returning to Gateway Mall. From Gateway Mall southward, the 9 takes over the southernmost segment of Route 59 to Downtown St. Pete.
In the early stages of planning and public input, the 9 was to only operate hourly seven days a week This did not pan out well with a lot of customers – as many businesses lie along the MLK St N corridor and they (the customers) felt that it was a disservice to them if bus service went down from 20 to 30 minutes to an hour on weekdays. PSTA eventually revised the proposal to include 30-minute weekday service while maintaining hourly weekend service.
Route 74 through central Pinellas has been split into three separate routes. The 74 is maintained between Seminole City Center (formerly Seminole Mall) and Gateway Mall. The 20 to 30-minute weekday frequency and hourly weekend service are retained. In addition, the 102nd Ave N/16th St N/94th Ave N loop has become permanent.
Splitting the 74 allows the Park Blvd portion to retain its frequent weekday service while opening the door to more frequent Saturday service and better Sunday service down the road should funding allow for it.
The segment south of Gateway Mall is now Route 16, which operates each day with one bus every hour. While I prefer that this route operate with 30 to 45-minute weekday service, it is probably not possible to do so at the moment, given PSTA’s limited resources. I do hope that frequency on the weekdays will be increased later on so that customers aren’t too inconvenienced.
The segment west of Seminole City Center is now Route 65, which also takes over the southernmost segment of Route 66 – the latter I will describe in a later post. Route 65 operates each day on an hourly schedule between Seminole City Center and the Park St Terminal in Downtown Clearwater. Buses traveling on the 65 will not enter the Indian Rocks Shopping Center at the northwest corner of Ulmerton Rd and Indian Rocks Rd. Street-side transfers can be made to Routes 59 and 61 from the bus stops along Indian Rocks Rd and Ulmerton Rd. Route 61 buses will still enter the shopping center’s parking lot.
Route 19 was first established in 1990 as a one-seat option for customers traveling the entire Pinellas County portion of US Hwy 19. While the service has been very popular and ridership very strong, increased traffic congestion along the highway over the years has created longer delays – especially in northern Pinellas. PSTA decided that splitting the 19 into two routes would be best to maintain as much existing service as possible while improving the overall reliability and efficiency of the system.
Route 19 was split at the Largo Commons Walmart – which the bus platform on the property’s east end serves as the Largo Transit Center. The segment north of the transfer center retains the Route 19 designation, while the segment south of there became the new Route 34 (34 was chosen due to the southern portion of the route being on 34th St N). Route 19’s overall frequency was reduced to every 35 minutes Monday through Saturday to maintain basic service along the northern US 19 corridor while still being frequent enough to get customers to major employment centers such as Westfield Countryside. Also, buses no longer enter the mall’s parking lots – but remain on Countryside Dr and SR 580. The Westfield Countryside timepoint has thus shifted to the eastbound-only platform on SR 580 at Summerdale Dr.
Route 34 begins its journey at the Largo Transit Center and then makes a southbound turnaround on US 19 at Whitney Rd. The route then follows the path of Route 19 down the central US 19 corridor to the Pinellas Park Transit Center (Shoppes at Park Place). From there; the route continues down the 34th St N corridor of US 19 to Grand Central Station and the Skyway Marina District. 20 to 30-minute weekday frequency is maintained throughout the day, with 30-minute evening and Saturday frequency, and hourly Sunday service. Select trips to Eckerd College are retained as well.
Route 18 was originally poised to see major revisions in an effort to streamline service. These plans called for the segment servicing Heritage Apartments to be discontinued, as well as the removal of service into Largo Mall’s parking lots. However; fierce resistance from customers forced PSTA to reconsider the removal of these segments until a longer-term solution can be crafted. In the meantime; Route 18 continues to operate as it did previously – but with some scheduling changes to help keep buses moving on time.
In the future, perhaps during the course of 2017 or 2018, I see PSTA revisiting Route 18 for the removal of service from Heritage Apartments. This will especially be the case if the agency’s Direct Connect service expands further to include more stops. Currently, the revised draft calls for the addition of five stops in strategically located areas of Pinellas, where getting to a bus stop is difficult.
In my next post; I will cover changes for Routes 52, 59, 60, 61, and 67 – focusing on the improvement of these routes through Largo (Routes 52 and 59), Clearwater (Routes 60 and 61), and Oldsmar (Route 67). I will then publish a third post covering Routes 62, 66, 76, 78, the North County Connector routes, and the Jolley Trolley – focusing on the reorganization of these routes through Northern Pinellas.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding these changes – I recommend that you contact PSTA directly at 727-540-1900, or by visiting PSTA.net. Please keep in mind that during the course of this week – Real Time Bus Information through the Clever Devices Interface (ridepsta.net) and OneBusAway may incrementally be unavailable due to updates that are needed to accommodate these route changes.